THE ‘FEMALE GAZE’ AS MOCKERY OF MACHISMO
Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment, in The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture (1988), maintain that feminist theorists argue that the concept of ‘the female gaze’ as mockery of machismo offers spectators the possibility of identifying with the ‘pleasures’ of activity without the sort of voyeurism associated with the ‘male gaze’ position of the classic Hollywood cinema. However, Star makes a clear distinction, not fully established in earlier feminist theories (e. g. Kaplan, Mulvey), between feminist and non-feminist spectators.
Star argues there is a major difference between the pleasures available to feminists and non-feminists. Feminists can experience the multiple pleasures of ‘resisting pleasures’, she says, and ‘“Resisting viewings” are the pleasures of viewing against the grain, that is in contradiction to the messages you are expected to receive from the text’ (1992:134). She maintains that feminists get pleasure from being critical, from ‘naming’ behaviour using the feminist theoretical repertoire, e. g. homophobic, macho, phallocentrism. Star argues that lesbian feminists, who are not open to feeling sexually attracted to men, have a different approach to viewing telerugby and distinctive pleasures are available:
Rugby viewing or spectating can be a lesbian occasion.. .I have listened to the positive words that many different lesbians use to describe male bodies in action. We will use words like ‘super’, ‘powerful’, ‘gutsy’, ‘outstanding’, or ‘absolutely brilliant’ to describe a move or a skill (seldom a physique). We never use the more explicitly sexual adjectives I have heard some heterosexual women use like ‘hunk’, ‘spunk’, ‘physical’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘well – hung’, or ‘turn-on’ for male athletes. Instead, we tend to use the first set of words equally to describe females and males, but reserve sexual words solely for women athletes.
Star argues that Maori women, both feminist and non-feminist, watch telerugby from a different perspective. She cites the work ofJacqueline Bobo (1988) who ‘in her discussion of black women’s positive reception of The Color Purple. shows how those in an oppressed position grow used to constructing something positive from the few media scraps they may have’ (Star 1992:134). For Maori, rugby is one of the too few spaces on television where Maori people are seen to be successful. Maori women as audience celebrate and support Maori men’s success: ‘Another pleasure comes from some Maori women’s understanding and love of rugby and in some cases participation in the game’ (Star 1992:135).
Thus different audiences bring ‘different frameworks of understandings’ to their readings of telerugby. The concept of ‘pleasures’ and ‘resisting pleasures’ is an important one in media theory, highlighting the significance of the differentiated audience. In addition, media forms are recognised as ‘sites of struggles’ around which constant ‘negotiation’ takes place, these negotiations occurring at institutional and textual levels and at the level of reception.
This chapter has considered feminist and postfeminist debates in the area of media and film theory. Second wave feminist interventions into mainstream cinema were centred on debates around psychoanalytic theory. Both feminist theorists and practitioners drew on the repertoire of dominant discourses in an attempt to challenge their mode of address and their assumptions. For postfeminist theorists these interventions were problematic in their uncritical use of a language and body of concepts which reinforced a model of binary opposition. Postfeminist discourses around film and media, through their intersection with post-colonialism and antiracism, articulate difference and challenge dominant discourses in the area of spectatorship, pleasures, and media and filmic texts. Postfeminist debates in the area of media and film theory aim to establish a multivocalism for both feminist theorists and practitioners.